Ghavri: War Crimes and Dates

The U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia makes America complicit in war crimes.

by Anmol Ghavri | 5/23/17 12:45am

President Donald Trump left Washington last week for his first international trip as commander in chief. He will be addressing members of all three of the world’s Abrahamic religions during stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican. On Saturday, May 20 he arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and met with Saudi King Salman and a variety of members of the royal family and government.

During Trump’s visit to Riyadh, the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed to an up to $350 billion arms deal over the next decade in which Riyadh will be purchasing American-made weapons, tanks, ships and military technology. Assistant to the president and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner allegedly worked to secure a discount for the Saudis from Lockheed Martin.

The immediate American sale to Saudi Arabia consists of $110 billion worth of “tanks, combat ships, missile defense systems, radar and communications and cyber security technology.” $110 billion is more than former President Barack Obama authorized in his eight years in the White House. The chief of the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Vice Admiral Joe Rixey, stated that “when completed, it will be the largest single arms deal in American history.”

I have no doubt that these arms and military technologies will be used by Saudi Arabia to continue its brutal campaign in Yemen, a country currently ravaged by civil war and famine. Riyadh has intervened on behalf of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, a pro-Western Sunni Muslim fighting Iranian-allied Zaydi Shi’a Houthis in North Yemen. The Houthis, a Zaydi-revivalist anti-Western and anti-imperialist insurgent group, were succeeding in their efforts to gain control of Yemen in the aftermath of the failed Yemeni Arab Spring uprising until Saudi Arabia intervened. Now, by providing more weapons to support Saudi Arabia’s campaign of war crimes in Yemen, the United States becomes increasingly complicit in Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate killing.

Saudi Arabia feels incredibly threatened by the Houthis on their southern border, especially since the Shi’a government in Iran is supporting them. However, that does not justify the indiscriminate way in which the Saudis have intervened in Yemen. There was never a real threat of a Shi’a insurgency spilling into Saudi Arabia — Riyadh is just paranoid in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal and Tehran’s involvement in Iraq and the Levant. The Zaydi-Houthis, a major party in Yemen’s Arab Spring that has been involved in an insurgency against Yemen since 1990, are currently receiving financial and intelligence support and arms from Tehran. Iran and Saudi Arabia both want to export their ideology and prop up friendly governments. Any action by one is perceived as a threat by the other, but this perceived threat does not give Riyadh the right to continue their killing of innocents and we should not be supporting them in this endeavor.

In addition to placing U.S. officials in jeopardy in international courts, Washington’s arms sale to a hyper-Wahhabi Saudi Arabia supposedly fighting Shi’a revival and expansion makes little sense if defeating a Sunni-Wahhabi ISIS is a priority. Our support for Saudi Arabia should come with conditions. Though it is a regional power, it is essentially a single-export state dependent on America’s security umbrella. If there was the political will and it was a priority, the United States could work to undercut public and private Saudi financial support of Sunni-Wahhabi terrorism while restraining indiscriminate Saudi military involvement, war crimes and human rights violations in Yemen to fight Shi’ism at their border.

In the end, Yemen is not even on the radar of American security interests beyond denying terrorist organizations space to operate, train or recruit. Washington and mainstream media do not prioritize Saudi war crimes in Yemen, exportation of Wahhabism or internal human rights abuses except during presidential elections. Ignoring the humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East’s poorest country and allowing Saudi Arabia to continue violating international law to kill civilians theoretically denies stateless space to terror organizations.

Either we support Saudi Arabia, whose priority is protecting its hegemony in the region through supporting Sunni and Wahhabi movements and denying Tehran proxies in the Levant and Yemen, or we work with coalition partners and Kurds to fight ISIS. The Saudis are not going to divert their Yemeni efforts in curbing a Shi’a insurgency to sincerely fight fellow Wahhabis in the Levant unless the U.S. prioritizes changing their behavior.

I doubt the Trump administration will recognize the complications, complexities and policy tradeoffs that come with trying to fight the terror group in Iraq and Syria while bolstering a Wahhabi Saudi regime that is currently committing war crimes in Yemen and exporting the same puritanical Islam of ISIS. It is a complicated game of policy Twister that a television personality-turned-president cannot begin to grasp.

Indeed, I would bet a great deal of money that Trump and his closest advisors do not know the difference between Sunni and Shi’a Islam yet alone Wahhabis, Alawites or Zaydis. While such ignorance may be acceptable for civilians, it should not be for the commander in chief of the United States.